“One of the best things Orange is the New Black has given me is straight boys,” says Lea DeLaria, who plays butch Big Boo on the hit Netflix series. “I spent many years having teenage boys spit in my face and call me a fat dyke, so its pretty amazing to have young guys coming up and wanting to have their picture taken with me, saying saying ‘I love you, my girlfriend loves you.’”
“It doesn’t matter to them that I’m a fat old dyke. Big Boo is funny. And funny is sexy.”
“When I started doing stand-up at San Francisco comedy clubs in 1982,”says DeLaria, who swings back through town for a Pride Eve cabaret performance at Feinstein’s at the Nikko tomorrow night. “Back then, I would spend a third of my time on stage dealing with straight guys heckling me.”
“The world has changed, and honestly, without wanting to sound like I’m patting myself on the back, I consider myself a person who helped effect that change.”
The millions of 25-and-under Orange fans who have just discovered over the past two years may have no idea that their TV diesel diva is an accomplished musical performer.
“Singing live in front of an audience is my favorite thing,” says the 56-year-old, who grew up in Illinois with a jazz musician for a father. “I mean darling, I can’t open my mouth without cracking a joke, but all singers do patter between songs. When I was doing stand-up, I always had a guitar, or a little band on stage with me.”
“Kids who first see me on Orange are finding old YouTube videos of me singing and posting them like ‘Whoa! It’s a big surprise. And people who have followed me for twenty years or more come up to me saying ‘I’ve been your fan since way before Orange is the New Black’, as if its a badge of honor!”
“I’m happy to have all of ‘em!” DeLaria declares cheerfully, noting that despite having appeared on The Arsenio Hall Show back in 1993 as the first out stand-up comedian on national television, her live audiences were primarily LGBT until five years later.
That’s when DeLaria had a major career breakthrough after being cast as lady cab driver Hildy in the Broadway revival of On The Town, in which she belted tunes including her now-signature, “I Can Cook, Too.” Entertainment Weekly proclaimed “a star is born”and DeLaria began to be booked into jazz venues as a solo performer.
“Once I started playing jazz clubs, my audiences started to change. I would look around and see way more straight people. But they were older, Broadway-going types. Now, with Orange, I’m getting all these other straight fans who are in their twenties who know me as a dyke, but at first don’t know I’m a singer. So it’s all coming together now. All these audiences are starting to merge.”
At Feinstein’s, along with a variety of American songbook classics and clever covers DeLaria will treat her ever more heterogeneous fan base to a homo-genius musical treat: cuts from House of David, her forthcoming album of jazzed-up David Bowie tunes, one of the most splendid genderfuck musical concepts of all time.
On the record, she says “Jean Genie”will be an acid-rock/jazz fusion affair, and ‘Life on Mars’ will have a full choir.
“I’m really looking forward to this show,”says DeLaria, “Because I just haven’t had much time to do cabaret over the past couple years, filming three seasons of Orange.”
“I also have been putting together a full-length biographical musical theater piece called ‘Last Dyke Standing,’” she confides. “It’s pretty much ready to go up now. So, maybe with the popularity of Orange, some producer will pick it up and you’ll see me back on Broadway or Off-Broadway in the next year.”
Feinstein’s at the Nikko
June 28, 7 p.m.
Jim Gladstone is a San Francisco-based creative consultant and writer. A book columnist and Contributing Editor at PASSPORT, he is the author of an award-winning novel, The Big Book of Misunderstanding.